It started out as a small group of veterans meeting in one person’s garage, but in four short years, a Manitoba grassroots organization has expanded, supporting dozens of people across various walks of life.
Veterans Alliance of Canada began by offering education on how cannabis can be used instead of pharmaceuticals to treat chronic pain and PTSD.
And while that remains a cornerstone of the work it does, it has become much more.
“Veterans tend to isolate themselves. Whether suffering from major depressive disorder, PTSD, they feel left behind, not understood. So that’s what we are, we’re a like-minded organization,” says president and co-founder Andrew MacLeod.
“So they come here and they can talk about their issues, or they don’t have to. Most of the time veterans don’t. They just want to be heard.”
The organization now hosts regular peer support meetings for veterans, first responders and their spouses.
For veteran Dave McLaughlin, one of the greatest benefits is being around others who understand what he’s gone through.
“I mean, how do you tell somebody that’s never seen a submarine that you served on a submarine and what you did on a submarine for instance, like I did?” McLaughlin says.
“But being able to talk to somebody that’s gone through the same thing, or the same trauma, or seen the same things you have, it’s very refreshing because you don’t feel like you’re so isolated, you don’t feel alone.”
McLaughlin says fellow members have even set up his Christmas decorations or delivered his groceries when physical ailments or travel quarantine meant he was unable to do it himself.
“These people don’t ask, they just do it. They arrange the doctors, they arrange the psychiatrists to see you, find out what it is, they inform you of what’s going on,” McLaughlin says.
“They’re always there if you need them.”
Members say the benefits of cannabis products can’t be overstated; benefits they wouldn’t have discovered without the help of Veterans Alliance.
“I feel cannabis saved my life in many ways. Whether it’s my PTSD or it’s my medical issues that prevent me from doing a lot of things,” says Patricia Laviolette, a director with Veterans Alliance, adding that the education she received from the organization was crucial.
“If you asked me 10 years ago, I would have said, ‘No. Absolutely no will I touch that stuff,’ but now I live on that stuff and I have reduced my medication quite a bit, and I’m hoping to reduce it more.”
McLaughlin and MacLeod both agree, saying they’ve been able to drastically reduce the amount of pharmaceutical drugs they were previously taking.
“I myself used to be on 13 different pharmaceuticals, of which six were opiates,” MacLeod says.
“It cost me my gall bladder, all these chemicals and stuff in your system. I now take zero. I don’t take any pharmaceuticals whatsoever … and since I’ve started utilizing cannabis, I don’t have night terrors anymore, I don’t wake up screaming.”
Through word of mouth, MacLeod says they’re now fielding calls from first responders and even seniors looking for effective ways to treat chronic conditions without the use of typically-prescribed medications.
MacLeod doesn’t hesitate to explain why he started Veterans Alliance, plainly stating veterans are doing for themselves what the government has failed to do.
“The government wasn’t doing anything. Plain and simple. And I myself was suffering. Someone had to do something, and we did,” MacLeod says.
“Why are these organizations popping up across Canada now? Why? Because there’s a need for it, and it’s not being addressed by the government, so people are taking their own steps to do it themselves. Shameful.”
MacLeod urges veterans who are struggling to reach out to the organization, instead of “suffering in silence.”
“It has been proven a long time now that veterans help veterans, and as Andy said, that’s because the government doesn’t help us,” says McLaughlin.
“If you’re a veteran and you’re suffering, we are here. Please contact us, because we can help.”
Veterans Alliance has plans to soon open an office in Brandon because of the growing number of members in that area.
MacLeod intends to eventually have branches across the country.
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